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The One Behind the Mask

Posted by Lindsay Umayam on Oct 25, 2020 8:00:00 AM

God works through His people

“God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation that is.” Martin Luther

Dad wore the same Halloween costume every year. It was simple and impossibly frugal: an old robe and a government-issued gas mask from his military readiness bag. When he wore that contraption and growled at me, it made a horrific, terrifying rumble, but I giggled with delight. I knew the man behind the mask, and he loved me.

Now, masks are everywhere, on everyone, at every turn. I take no delight in it. Martin Luther once proclaimed that, “Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things.”  These are masks worthy of delight.

Luther, the bold theologian, grievous sinner, and champion of God’s Word, spent much of his life exploring the relationship between our works and our salvation in Christ. According to Luther, God Himself is the One at work, serving and loving His people through His people in the mundane and ordinary movements of life. What a radical concept to the Christians of the 16th century! What a radical concept for us. All human tasks yielding goodness and provision in society are the actual works of God. Just as God provides abundantly for all His creation, even those who do not love Him, He uses all people as His masks, as common reminders that,  “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17 NIV)

Need I point out how imperfect we are in our callings? We deliberately, thoughtlessly, regularly turn from our vocations as parent, student, citizen, spouse, friend, neighbor, and worker. Yet, in humility and with a bit of pain, I admit the police officer who reminds me to slow down is not a nuisance. His work is a mask of God, showing His goodness in reminding me to respect earthly authorities and prioritize safety in my neighbor's interest. (I also admit that I may still be working through that one, which is why I need this as a written example.) I do not walk through the world naively, assuming evil is not crouching at my door. It is there. And it is real. Yet, always, at every time and in all things, God is at work.

The obedience from my child, the patient word from my husband, the well-timed laugh with a friend, and the fantastic person who picks up the roadkill from Rufe Snow Drive have much in common. All are masks of God. To that list, I will add the man who cleaned a particularly unpleasant exam room recently, the homeless woman who held open a door for me, the child advocate sitting in a courtroom down the street, the jovial crossing guard who waves at me twice daily, and the army of citizens responsible for maintaining our clean water supply. In all things, He is the source of goodness. He is, in love, serving His people through His people.

All work is God Honoring

I miss the smiles in Tom Thumb, carpool, and the hot lunch line at school. I want to stomp my feet when cloth covers up a critical detail that would help me decipher the difference between momentary disappointment and profound sorrow. The intersection of verbal and non-verbal communication is a delicate dance.  We are stepping on each other’s feet more than ever. (Also, in this stage of life, I wonder if I’ve been relying on lip-reading more than is age-appropriate. Do I need my hearing checked? Or do you have a problem with enunciation?) We are a legitimate mess, with our false faces turned outward and awkwardness abounding. We are also legitimate masks of God, as He serves us through each other, in creative elbow-bump greetings and in well-maintained infrastructure.

I assume our modern lives would dumbfound Martin Luther. However, in his profound confusion, I think he’d turn to the Word of God to be reminded that,  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17 NASB)

Sometimes these veiled humans in our world and on our campus look scary, like a strange man in a bathrobe and a 1970’s military gas mask. But, in the end, we know the One behind these masks. And He loves us.


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